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Sanford L. Drob

For the past quarter century James Hillman has been creating a new vision of psychology, one in which psychology becomes a "supreme discipline" concerned not only with the psyche of humanity but the "soul" which is at the heart of the world. Vilified by some, he has been called brilliant, explosive and poetic by others. His ideas, through their popularization in the writings of the best selling author, Thomas Moore (1992, 1994), have reached millions, yet he is unheard of by many professional psychologists. While some psychologists have applauded Hillman's call for a return of the soul to a central place in psychology (Elkins, 1995), others have been put off by the fact that Hillman's own writings are critical of the humanist tradition, highly provocative and occasionally abstruse.

Hillman has been consistently critical of what he regards to be the basic assumption of contemporary humanistic psychology, the unity and essential "health" of the self. He is also critical of the humanistic (and spiritual) focus upon self-actualization and spirituality, as opposed to an experience of the chaos, multiplicity, and disentegrative aspects of the soul and the world (Hillman, 1977, pp. 180-3; Hillman, 1979). Yet a close examination of Hillman's ideas reveals them to be of great interest to humanistic psychologists and his position is far closer to humanistic/ spiritual psychology than he himself cares to acknowledge.

In this paper I will explore Hillman's psychology, touching upon points of contact and relevance to the Kabbalah.

Dogma and Deconstruction

Part of Hillman's plan is to shake us up intellectually, to actually enact what the Kabbalists refer to as the "Breaking of the Vessels," i.e. to disintegrate our fixed patterns of thought in order that a bit of genuine creativity, a "divine spark" or "soul" can make its way through our routinized system of beliefs. There is thus a sense in which Hillman's ideas are, for him, themselves expendable, weapons in the assault against our comfortable dogmas, to be laid down once their deconstructive task has been achieved. At times it seems that for Hillman it is the disintegration of theory and dogma which is creative and interesting and not the new theories that arise in the old theories' place. To become an adherent of Hillman's ideas would itself call for a new assault, etc. Nevertheless there are certain recurring themes, most of which are themselves partly disintegrative or deconstructive in intent which can be said to characterize Hillman's point of view, and amongst these, the one that best characterizes Hillman's overall perspective is his concern with the "depth of the soul".

The Depth of The Soul

"The soul", according to Hillman, is the proper subject matter of psychology. Bettleheim (1984) has pointed out in his brief but wonderful volume Freud and Man's Soul, Freud himself, actually used the German term for soul, "Seele", when speaking of what is translated into English as the "psychic apparatus" and by this he made reference to the person's most inner, vital sense of "meaning".

For Hillman, the soul generally lays hidden behind our routines, dogmas and fixed beliefs. Soul, according to Hillman is most apt to emerge in those chaotic, "pathological", moments when we experience the disintegration of our beliefs, values, and security. For it is in such moments that that our imagery, emotions, desires and values are heightened and we have the fullest awareness of the psyche in its essential form. Here, Hillman provides us with a psychological application of the Kabbalistic act of Birur, the extrication of the inner divine self, the spark of divine light that lays hidden within the human personality. For Hillman, the very point of deconstructing our fixed ideas in psychology and elsewhere is to provide us with the conditions for the revelation of psyche itself.

Hillman says five more things about the nature of the soul: the soul (1) makes all meaning possible, (2) turns events into experiences, (3) involves a deepening of experience, (4) is communicated in love, and (5) has a special relation with death (Hillman, 1977, p. xvi, Hillman, 1976, pp. 44-47). For Hillman, as a result of these five characteristics, the soul is the "imaginative possibility of our nature", a possibility that is realized in reflective speculation, dream, image, and fantasy. Death is significant for soul because possibility (and hence imagination) derives from an existential recognition of one's finitude: what is finite can imagine possibilities, some of which will be realized, others of which (owing to death) will not (Hillman 1992, p. xvi, 1989, p. 21).

For Hillman, the ultimate psychological value, indeed the ultimate value in general, is a realization and deepening of the soul in its widest possible sense. Hillman's goal, which can be described as "mystical" amounts to a radical departure from not only the medical model of psychoanalysis but also from those humanistic models which, having rejected the metaphor of "cure," continue to entertain notions of self-improvement, self-actualization, well-being, understanding or enlightenment as goals for treatment or therapy (Moore, 1991). For Hillman the goal of psychology is the deepening of meaning and experience per se; any other goal, whether it be medical cure, humanistic self-actualization, or spiritual enlightenment, is bound to distract us from our primary human task as the bearers of meaning and significance. Hillman's views are almost quietistic, and they approach those strands within Jewish mysticism, particularly in Hasidism, where devekut, or cleaving to the God within, is the ultimate value. However, more generally, his view is one in which every arena of human endeavor is to be imbued with meaning and significance, and here is close to the Kabbalist's affirmation that all human acts provide an opportunity for the respiritualization and repair of the world.

Hillman's thinly veiled attack on humanistic psychology is, at least in part, misplaced. As will become evident throughout this essay, Hillman shares much with the humanistic tradition. Self-actualization, as Maslow and others have described it, certainly involves a deepening of experience and meaning, and, and even psychoanalysts as varied as Winnicott, Bion, and Lacan, have regarded "wholeness," "cure", and "self-improvement" as incidental to the main analytic endeavor of becoming open to what is most basic and authentic in human experience. For each of these authors, as for Hillman, our goal resides neither in happiness nor reason, but in what Michael Eigen, quoting the biblical phrase, calls an experience that one has "with all one's soul and all one's might" (Eigen, 1981) regardless of how mortifying, discordant or pathological such experience at times can be.


Image and Myth as The Language of The Soul

Hillman's originality, however, lies in his view that imagery and fantasy, rather than analysis and reflection, are the vehicles of soul-making. Indeed, one of Hillman's most important contributions to psychology is his insistence that the images and fantasies of the soul should be maintained as images and not analyzed or translated into concepts and ideas. For Hillman, the image, the dream, and, on the linguistic plane, the story and the myth, are the carriers of psychological depth, the bearers of soul. When we are, for example, inspired by a painting or a movement in a symphony, it is the image or music itself which deepens our sense of soul and not our analysis and interpretation of this imaginal material. Psychoanalysis adopted the prevailing, and on Hillman's view, unfortunate modern tendency to value interpretation over the object, image or fantasy.

For Hillman, the very process of interpretation is suspect, precisely because in bringing an image or fantasy under the rubric of an interpretation or a concept we have tamed it, made it familiar, and essentially robbed it of its potential to frighten, enthrall, puzzle, or otherwise work its way into and transform our psyche. Hillman discusses a patient's dream of a crawling, huge black snake. He tells us:

and the moment you've defined the snake, interpreted it, you've lost the snake, you've stopped it and the person leaves the hour with a concept about my repressed sexuality or my cold black passions... (Hillman 1983, p. 53)

For Hillman the task of the therapist is "to keep the snake there". He wants the psyche, by way of the limitless depths of its images to "threaten the hell out of you," to keep you in the realm of the unknown for as long as possible, and it is in this way that real psychological work can begin. Hillman's views here are close to the Kabbalist Azriel of Gerona's charge that to have "faith" is to enter into a relationship with one's "nothingness" and the "unknown" of the infinite, Ein-sof. It also accords well with those elements within the Kabbalah and Hasidism that deny the possibility of cognitive, as opposed to experiential, knowledge of the divine.

The entire world, for Hillman, has a mythopoetic foundation and, as Moore (1991, p. 15) points out, archetypal psychology sees every fragment of life as myth and poetry. Again, we have a contemporary vision of the Kabbalist's tikkun. In seeing myth and poetry in all aspects of the world, one can, in Kabbalistic terms, draw out the spiritual significance of even the most mundane things and events. For Hillman, as for the Kabbalah, the world can be understood and experienced from a variety of perspectives. There are no privileged forms of discourse, only some narratives which deepen meaning and experience and others which do not. Scientific language in particular must be reevaluated according to this model.

For Hillman, the different perspectives which can be taken in psychology are so many myths and rhetorics which reveal as much about the underlying fantasies of the investigator as they do about the phenomena under his or her investigation. For example, the existentialist can be understood as laboring under a Herculean or Promethean heroic myth or perhaps under an Atlas myth in which he conceives of the entire world as resting upon man's shoulders. Hillman does not, of course, say that the value of an entire school of psychology can be reduced to the archetypal images that guide its labor. However, he is completely distrustful of any attempt to crown one perspective as supreme, or to arrive at any meta-perspective or ultimate synthesis. In this he is in league with Derrida and the deconstructionists, and only in partial agreement with the Kabbalists. The latter, though recognizing the extremely problematic nature of the quest, they, like Jung, never give up hope of synthesis and individuation.

As psychological theorists we are like map-makers ever puzzling over the riddle of how to project the spherical surface of the earth onto a flat, two-dimensional plane. Each and every one of our efforts, however valuable and true, will inevitably distort some aspect of the subject we are studying. As psychologists (and patients) we are in constant danger of elevating our interpretive perspectives over the reality of our experience. This is, according to Hillman, inevitable, as we must see experience through one archetype or another, but we should not thereby fool ourselves into believing that our perspective is identical with "reality".

The same holds true in the process of psychotherapy. While Hillman sees therapy as providing patients with a number of alternative narratives (or myths) through which they can make sense of their lives, he holds that no particular narrative can ever hold the full measure of the soul. Indeed, for Hillman, such narratives have a dual face, for while on the one hand they connect us to the gods and thereby provide archetypal or universal meaning to our lives, on the other hand they imprison us in the self-satisfied illusion that we can truly understand or explain who we are. It is this latter settled, even stifling aspect of psychological narrative which leads Hillman to welcome our worst nightmares, pathologies, alien passions, and personal contradictions as signs of soul breaking through the conceptual vessels that try to contain it. Like the psychoanalyst Lacan (1977), who holds that only glimpses of the unconscious, hints of true desire, can be seen through the veils of the symbolic order, Hillman places great value on those chaotic, frightening and often evil moments of human life where cherished beliefs break down, values are transformed and the individual is confronted with something completely unknown. Hillman, we might say, takes seriously the Zohar's admonishment that each individual must heed and pay his or her due to the "Other Side." For Hillman, like the Kabbalists, good must be drawn through the portals of chaos and evil.

What occurs on the individual level is also present in the history of ideas. Freud's initial discovery of the unconscious, for example, itself involved a breakthrough of a frightening image, of an unknown abyss, an element of death, from the depths of the human psyche. Anyone reading Freud's earliest papers and letters sees him struggling to provide new vessels (ideas) to contain the beast which he and Breuer had unleashed, for it was clear to each of them that the old vessels, the old concepts of psychology had been shattered by what they had found. Breuer was frightened and left the field, leaving Freud to carry on the work alone. But no sooner is the beast unleashed that we find Freud (for example, in The Project For A Scientific Psychology) busy with interpretation and conceptualization. Indeed the entire theoretical edifice of psychoanalytic metapsychology is just such an effort to find vessels to contain the images of the unconscious mind. We might say that psychoanalytic theory is itself a rational/ego process which enables us to control the unknown in order that we can remain in our collective slumbers, not overly disturbed by what lies in the depths of our souls.

Hillman implores us not to be too complacent in our theories. He welcomes the idea of a renewed fragmentation in our understanding of humanity, for at those times when the old vessels break, new glimpses into the abyss are at hand.

Personification and The World-Soul

Hillman does not limit the soul to humanity, but seeks to extend it (and with that our conception of psychology, psychotherapy, and psychoanalysis) to the world at large, to the products of culture and nature as well as humanity. Each thing, Hillman affirms, using the Gnostic/Kabbalistic image, has a spark of soul at its core. "Let us imagine the anima mundi (the world soul)," Hillman tells us, as that particular soul spark, that seminal image, which offers itself through each thing in its visible form." (Hillman, 1982, p. 77)

Psychology, according to Hillman must be practiced on the world at large and not just on people. Indeed it is the very view that only the person has psyche or soul which places an unbearable psychic burden on humanity, imprisoning us within our own psychologies and removing us from any genuine encounter with the world. The view that only humanity has soul, and that the rest of the world is dead and evil, is in Hillman's view, a cause of the contemporary crisis in our "environment". Such person-centeredness is also, in his view, a major problem for much of humanistic psychology.

As we shall see, psychotherapy for Hillman simply constitutes a deep caring, love and appreciation for the soul, and what the soul presents. The soul, considered here in its widest sense as the anima mundi, beckons us to regard it therapeutically in all of its manifestations. Indeed it is particularly incumbent upon humanity to take a therapeutic stance towards those aspects of the individual and the world soul which we would normally despise. Such a caring and appreciative attitude towards even the world's evil is necessary because without it, according to the inevitable logic of the return of the repressed, evil will come to dominate us on its own terms. Those who fail to give a portion to the "other side" , the Zohar tells us, only increase the powers of evil and destruction (Tishby 1989, vol, 2, p. 492). It is in such a spirit that Hillman performs his psychological meditations on such phenomena as sidewalks, parks, architecture (Hillman, 1978, 1986) and money (Hillman, 1982a), as well as on incest (Hillman, 1987), war (Hillman, 1987a) and "bad parenting" (Hillman, 1983a). Indeed, for Hillman, it is precisely loving attention to the pathological and debased aspects of the world and psyche that are likely to lead to the greatest depths of soul.           

Honoring Pathology

In what amounts to a Nietzchean transformation of values, Hillman the psychologist and psychotherapist comes to regard psychopathology as our most valuable ally, our most trusted friend. Hillman's views on pathology are central to his psychology, and these views indeed take center stage in Revisioning Psychology, his most important work. Central to his perspective is the idea that, particularly in our own era, psychopathology is the primary vehicle through which soulfulness is achieved. In the same way that Freud understood the neurotic symptom as one path to the understanding of the unconscious, Hillman sees psychopathology as the "royal road" to the deepening of soul. Kabbalistically, we might repeat that Hillman is here repeating the Lurianic maxim that the "Breaking of the Vessels" is the prerequisite to tikkun.

Hillman's reasoning here is complex. On the simplest, perhaps most Jungian, level Hillman observes that pathology, particularly psychosis, is likely to exhibit the most salient structures of archetypal thinking. Hillman also assents to Otto Rank's observation that there is an intimate connection between psychopathology and creativity. Indeed he tells us that the soul not only sees by means of, but actually exists because of its afflictions (Hillman 177, pp. 57, 104). According to Hillman, pathology calls forth the symbols, images and meanings which constitute our most primitive human response to chaos, and which according to Jung are the building blocks of creativity in literature and the arts.

For Hillman, the most significant way in which pathology deepens the soul is that pathology is a clue to desire. Hillman makes this point quite well when he asserts: "Until the soul gets what it wants it must fall ill again"(Hillman 1976, p. 158) and the psychopathological symptom, is, "the first herald of an awakening psyche which will not tolerate any more abuse." Hillman informs us:

Through depression we enter depths and in depths find soul. It moistens the dry soul, and dries the wet, It brings refuge, limitations, focus, gravity, weight and humble powerlessness. It reminds us of death. The true revolution begins in the individual who can be true to his own depression (Hillman 1977, pp. 98-9)

However, Hillman at times carries his romanticization of pathology to an extreme, even going so far as to speak out against "hope". "The message of hope", he tells us, "only makes hopelessness darker." "Depression", Hillman tells us:

lets you live down at the bottom. And to live down at the bottom means giving up the Christian thing about resurrection and coming out of it; "light at the end of the tunnel." No light fantasy; and then the depression at once becomes less dark. No hope, no despair (Hillman 1983, p. 21).

Hillman implies that there are times when we must give in to own thanatic urges, or at least recognize their prepotency: "the disease which the experience of death cures" he tells us "is the rage to live". There is a sickness, according to Hillman, in a one sided affection for life.

For Hillman, it is not so much that symptoms cloak a specific forbidden impulse or desire, but rather that psychopathology, by leading us into a "dark night of the soul," destroys our assumptions about ourselves and the world, and leads us back into the original chaos from which all passion and creativity are born. His view is, of course, reminiscent (and in part derivative) of the alchemist's solve et coagula (dissolve and coagulate). The alchemists held that a prerequisite for the activity of creating gold from base metals is a dissolution of all opposites and an achieved chaos. Jung, who brought these alchemical conceptions to the attention of contemporary psychologists, himself later came to realize that behind this alchemical idea lay the Kabbalistic notion of the "breaking of the vessels." The Kabbalists held that the process of both God's and man's creativity is predicated upon a dialectic of destruction and rebirth, in which old configurations of thought and being are consistently torn asunder to make way for new conceptions and forms of life. Such a breakage can occur in a person's life and provide him or her with sufficient chaos to be personally reborn. Indeed, according to Perry (1974) this is the very function of psychosis. Schizophrenics experience a disintegration of their own egos and a resultant crisis which puts them on a quest for a renewed self. Whether or not this is a romanticization of psychosis it is clear that there are at least some occasions in which severe psychological suffering heralds a period of intense creativity and renewed life. Hillman himself speaks of an archetypical need for a second beginning: "the first start," he tells us is wiped out, "and the world begins again" (Hillman, 1970, p. 164).

The soul is deepened by pathology in yet other ways. Psychological symptoms, particularly depression, often call into question our most treasured assumptions about ourselves and the world. Like dreams, whose strange and often frightening images challenge the allegorical frames through which we interpret reality, symptoms have a disintegrative function, leading us deeper and deeper into the unknown. Hillman attributes this function to the anima archetype which he equates with the soul itself:

By leading whatever is known from off its solid footing, she carries every question into deeper waters, which is also a way of soul-making (Hillman 1985, p. 135).

For Hillman the unknown leads us into chaos and chaos is inseparable from Eros and creativity:

Eros is born of chaos, implying that out of every chaotic moment ...creativity...can be born [Hillman 1978a, p. 98]

In the end Hillman concludes that there is a divine or godly side to all pathology, that the cure of symptoms may also cure away love, and that hope for cure is often part of the disease itself (Hillman 1976, p. 158). In Kabbalistic terms, we must be daring enough to extract the sparks of divinity even, and especially, from those states of mind that seem to be completely removed from God.

For Hillman, pathology is a basic archetypal way of being, an essential aspect of all things. It is, however, surprising that Hillman, (unlike such radical psychiatrists as Szasz and Laing) wishes to keep the concept and symbol of psychopathology while at the same time completely removing it from any medical, healing, or even therapeutic context. As we have seen, for Hillman pathology is the via regia to the depths of the soul, and the individual could not be in touch with his or her innermost self without it. Indeed, Hillman seems to imply that this is a necessary truth. Part of the very meaning of love, for example, is that it is deepened through chaos, suffering and adversity.

Some of Hillman's positions on psychopathology are deserving of "healthy" critique. While Hillman is quick to recognize the goodness, the "health" within pathology, he curiously fails to acknowledge the sickness at pathology's very core, and (a fact that is obvious to everyone), that pathology by its very nature calls out to be healed and cured (and in some cases such as incest and child abuse, outright condemned). Healing, we might want to say, is just as archetypal as sickness, and while we may recognize the value of such "sickness" (just as the Kabbalists recognized the "value" of evil) this does not excuse us from our efforts to eradicate pathology (and overcome evil) in any specific instance in which it is encountered.

Hillman it seems is too focused upon the shevirah )Breakage) and not sufficiently upon the restoration (tikkun). The soul that grows as a result of pathology does not bear the majority of its fruits until it is restored to health, and while one may, indeed, lose something valuable in, say, eradicating a depression, or even a psychosis, too soon, one can lose something far greater by failing to treat a depression or psychosis that would eventuate, to take one particularly poignant example, in suicide. There are depressions and other psychological disorders that are so paralyzing, so deadening of the soul, so as to give lie to any efforts to honor or romanticize them. The skill and art of the psychotherapist is to comprehend when pathology may indeed by soul-deepening, and when in fact it has become so debilitating as to demand a rapid, healing intervention.


Hillman is hardly content with turning his deconstructive gaze on such earthly shibboleths as medicine, health, and cure. A recurrent theme in his work is a disintegration of the one God, which, in a reversal of Jung, also turns out to be an attack on the unity of the ego or self. Hillman's views here would seem to be antithetical to the most fundamental precept of Judaism, and, by extention, opposed to the Kabbalah as well. However, if we examine his ideas closely we find that his "polytheism" is in reality a description of the same fragmented world and God that the Lurianists symbolize with the Breaking of the Vessels.

For Hillman a recognition of this fragmentation is absolutely necessary in psychology. He sees, "the psychic fragmentation supposedly typical of our times as the return of the repressed, bringing a return of psychological polytheism" (Hillman, 1981, p. 115). For Hillman, the psyche is inherently multiple, and requires a psychology that insists neither upon integration nor a unified subject. The soul has many sources of meaning, direction and value, and, as Thomas Moore puts it:

The psyche is not only multiple, it is a communion of many persons, each with specific needs, fears, longings, style and language. The many persons echo the many gods who define the worlds that underlie what appear to be a unified human being. (Moore 1991, p. 36)

The "therapeutic" implications of Hillman's views on polytheism are simple but far-reaching. Once we have abandoned the notion of a unitary, integrated self we are able to give ourselves and our patients much more room to be who we truly are, individuals with varied, off again, on again, motives, desires, passions and interests, whose lives will not correspond to a single theme but will rather constitute a tapestry of many, often contradictory, stories and directions. Hillman himself tells us that therapy is most helpful when it enables individuals to place their lives simultaneously within a variety of fictional genres; the epic, comic, detective, realistic, picaresque, etc., without having to choose one against the other:

For even while one part of me knows the soul goes to death in tragedy, another is living a picaresque fantasy, and a third is engaged in the heroic fantasy of improvement. (Hillman, 1989, p. 81)

Hillman 's views are perhaps typical of the post-modernist sentiment that "broken vessels" are indeed all we have and can ever have. Unlike the Kabbalists (and Jung), Hillman is not optimistic about the possibility of either a reunification of the self or the world; any purported reunification or, in kabbalistic terms, Tikkun, would be a fantasy or narrative that would hold true from only one perspective. His "polytheism" is, unlike the Kabbalist's Partzufim (or faces of the divine) a stage on the way to an ultimate unity. However, like the Kabbalist's he holds that "polytheism" (like all other ideas) exists in coincidentia oppositorum with its opposite, and that these opposites are mutually corrective (see below: "Hillman and Hegel").

Multiple Personality

            If Hillman is correct we are all, at bottom, multiple personalities, and our collective fascination with and resistance to this diagnosis is best understood as an ambivalence towards recognizing the thoroughgoing disunity within our own souls. If Freud diminished humanity by showing that one is not the master in his/her own house, the phenomena of multiple personality threatens us by deconstructing "his", "her", "master", and "house" altogether, so that the very concept of an individual human subject or self, upon which European (and American) civilization has rested for so many centuries begins to lose its very sense. It is no wonder that the diagnosis of multiple personality disorder causes such controversy in the courts, the very guardians of the notion of rational, individual responsibility, and that it is from the courts that we see the greatest pressure to reform the theory of genuinely multiple selves residing in the same body. Never mind that the phenomena of possession, speaking in tongues, automatic writing, the doppelganger and deja vu have existed from ancient times to the present day (Hillman 1977, p. 24)); never mind that a few lone voices in our own century (e.g. the Russian mystic Gurdjieff) have told us that our personal "unity" is the most dangerous of illusions, the ruling authorities will hear nothing of multiplicity in the human psyche. Twenty five years ago James Hillman commented on the stir caused by multiple personality in the early years of this century:

Multiple personality was ending the rule of reason and so of course this phenomenon became the focus of the defenders of reason: psychiatrists (Hillman 1977, p. 25).

            For Hillman "cases of multiple personality (at the turn of the century) were important because they confirmed the multiplicity of the individual at a time when the same phenomenon was beginning to appear in the culture in general" (Hillman 1977, p. 25). Today, the resurgence of this diagnosis is symptomatic of a widespread, culture-wide return of the repressed, manifesting itself as a rebellion against the unitary, conscious ego of the scientific, rationalistic age, and against the centralization of political and cultural power which the deification of the rational ego has meant in western society. According to Hillman:

New partial personalities spring up with feelings, opinions, needs. A sociologist might speak of subcultures; a political scientist of states' rights and grass roots government. Whatever the category, central command is losing control [Hillman 1977, p. 25].


The Deconstruction of the Ego

In Hillman's deconstruction of traditional views of the self and his view of "multiple realities" he "senses" and is even a vehicle for "post-modernism". In addition his views on polytheism and multiplicity place him in league with those post-modern psychoanalysts (e.g. Lacan, 1977) who regard the ego, and particularly ego psychology, with considerable contempt. The notion of a conflict-free, rational ego, in charge of the personality, is, for Hillman and these thinkers an utter illusion. For Hillman, the unconscious runs through everything, including psychology itself. He can affirm with Lacan that there is no univocal speech, no absolute sincerity, no unitary self, and nothing "in charge," from which any such univocal speech, action or sincerity can arise.

For Hillman, the ego must step aside in favor of the soul. Indeed the job of therapy, whether it be conducted by one's own anima or by an actual therapist, is (contrary to the Freudian maxim) to lead the individual deeper into unconsciousness. The identification of the essential person with "consciousness" is the faulty heritage of Descartes and of 19th century psychology. "What brings cure is an archetypal consciousness, and this notion of consciousness is definitely not based on ego" (Hillman 1985, p. 87). Hillman distinguishes ego, consciousness and reason on the one hand, from soul, unconsciousness, and archetype on the other. Indeed, he provides us with a list of ego related terms (such as commitment, relatedness, responsibility, choice, light, problem solving, reality testing, strengthening, developing, controlling, progressing,) and contrasts them with anima or soul related terminology (attachment, fantasy, image, reflection, insight, mirroring, holding, cooking, digesting, echoing, gossiping, deepening) (Hillman 1985, p. 97). (Hillman, by the way, was amongst the first to criticize scientific psychology on gender-related grounds: its domination by an animus (ego) archetype or myth.) For Hillman there is no real, deep self. There are as many "selves" as there are archetypes around which a "self" can be "constellated." From Hillman's perspective Jung, who was otherwise the predecessor to Hillman's own archetypal psychology, was caught up and blinded by a single archetype, the unified "self".

According to Hillman, individuation, like any archetype, can be "demonstrated in texts and cases" and found to be ubiquitous. But to make the individuated, unified self a law of the psyche, as "the one purpose or goal of ensouled beings" is to forget that individuation is but one perspective amongst others (Hillman 1977, p. 147).

One thing is certain, whatever the nature of the unified self, such a self must of necessity accommodate the soul's archetypal diversity. Not simple integration but rather a dialectic between multiplicity and unity, between polytheism and the one God, or as the philosophers simply put it, between "the one and the many" is necessary to achieve an adequate conception of the teleology of the individual. As put by the Chabad hasidic thinker, R. Aaron Ha-Levi:

The essence of His intention is that His coincidentia be manifested in concrete reality, that is that all realities and their levels be revealed in actuality, each detail in itself, and that they nevertheless be unified and joined in their value, that is, that they be revealed as separate essences, and that they nevertheless be unified and joined in their "value." (Elior, 1987, p. 167-8).

Hillman and Hegel

Hillman makes scant reference to Hegel and actually lists the Hegelian dialectic amongst several philosophical ideas which should not be imported into psychology (Hillman 1977, p. 118). Yet it is precisely dialectical thinking with its "negating...of every fixed category of the abstractive intellect" (Hegel, 1971, p.3) and unlimited tolerance for opposing and paradoxical concepts and symbols which informs much of Hillman's work. Jung, in Psychology and Alchemy held that the paradox, in which oppositions imply one another in coincidentia oppositorum is one of our most valuable spiritual tools because of all forms of thought only it "comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life" (Jung, 1968, par. 18). This view, which is highly Hegelian, is also, as I have shown elsewhere (Drob, 2000) quite Kabbalistic. Hillman, whose views, are, in effect, a series of radical (and dialectical) paradoxes fails to recognize the debt that he (and all dynamic psychologists) have to the philosopher who argued that all of our beliefs involve their contradictions as part of their very essence.

Hillman's central idea of "the deepening of soul" is far more dialectical than Hillman might care to admit. As I have already suggested, the deepening of soul, or increase in the meaning and depth of experience, is the highest value or goal of archetypal psychology. Indeed Hillman uses as his motto John Keats dictum that the world itself "is the vale of soul-making" (Hillman, 1979, p. 57). For Hillman the classical problems of philosophy, theology and psychology "what it is to be truly human, how to love, why to live, and what is emotion, value, justice, change, body, God, soul and madness in our lives", as well as the more immediate problems of sex, money, power, family, health, etc. are all insoluble, their eternal purpose simply "to provide the base of soul-making" (Hillman 1977, p. 149). "There is a secret love hiding in each problem (Hillman, 1983, p. 181), problems are "secret blessings" that sustain and deepen our souls. This view is also Hegelian. Hegel, following Fichte, based his entire philosophical system on the idea that the conflicts, contradictions, puzzles and enigmas of the world serve the single teleological purpose of providing an arena for the development of humanity's, and hence, the world's spirit. Hillman's view hardly seems different, except that for Hegel's "Geist" (mind or spirit) we have Hillman's "soul". The view is also Jungian as well, for it holds that the essence of psychological life is the deepening of the psyche's own experience, which for Jung is tantamount to the process of individuation.

Hillman implies that the twin poles of monotheism and polytheism emerge to correct the excesses of each other in history. For Hillman, ours is an era in which polytheism and multiplicity have returned to correct the repressive monism of ego, reason, consciousness and central control. And with this dialectical vision, he comes very close to a Hegelian view of history as well.

Hillman's "Re-vision" of Psychology  

For Hillman psychology cannot be taken to be a separate science, completely distinct from literature, art, philosophy, politics, religion, natural science, and the daily affairs of the street. Psychology, as its own name implies, must be concerned with psyche, the soul, and not only the soul of humanity but the soul which is at the core of all meaningfulness whatsoever. As such, for Hillman (as for Hegel), psychology must be considered a foundational and even supreme discipline, because "the psyche is prior and must appear within every human undertaking" (Hillman 1977, p. 130).

The ultimate goal of psychology, however, is not to find answers and solutions to problems, but, rather, to deepen our experience of the problems themselves. The classical problems of mind/body, nature/nurture, free will/determinism are, according to Hillman, essentially contestable, and can only be resolved within the context of a particular system of thought (Hillman 1977, p. 148). But the psyche is much broader than any of the perspectives it can take upon itself and is at bottom far more interested in the play of its own ideas than in the solution to psychological problems. The same can be said about the particular problems of each human individual, how to love, why to live, what to do with respect to money, family, sexuality, religion, etc. None are soluble, but rather the very fact that we ask them prompts us to go deeper into the caring of our soul. "The purpose of these eternal psychological problems" is, as we have seen, "to provide the base of soul-making." Psychological ideas, for Hillman, are in essence, food for the soul.

Does all of this mean that it does not matter what solutions we provide to the problems of philosophy, psychology and daily life? Herein, I think, lies the danger of a relativistic psychology such as Hillman's. By including everything in psychology's purview, by denying that psychology is interested in truth, by asserting that no psychological ideas can be taken literally, Hillman runs the risk of a vicious relativism in which psychological ideas are devalued by society precisely because they have been relegated to the realm of opinion.

The solution to this difficulty, I believe, can be found in one of Hillman's own ideas: the idea that the very same life activity can be understood as part of more than one genre, more than one narrative, at the same time. Within one such "narrative", the traditional one, psychology is one science amongst others; its task is to amass data and theory about a particular subject matter.

However, from another point of view, different, or even the same, psychologists can conceive of themselves as engaging in an activity which is far more closely related to the goals of traditional philosophy and religion, in which the concerns of the soul, rather than human behavior or the mind narrowly considered, become paramount. Such psychologists would, for example, be more concerned with the deepening of experience than with curing pathology, and would place far more value on the metaphoric language of poetry than the objectivity of natural science. Such psychologists, I would argue, not only fulfill the vision of James Hillman, but also the highest ideals of humanism.

That a dual (or even multiple) perspective on psychology is possible follows not only from Hillman's own view that the psyche is multiple, but from the everyday experience of psychologists themselves, many of whom freely, if somewhat uncomfortably, alternate between professional/scientific perspectives (e.g. conducting empirical studies, psychological tests, behavior therapy) and more reflective and mythopoetic concerns, often in approaching the same subject matter or patient.

Martin Buber (1958) tells us in I and Thou that it is the "exalted melancholy of our fate" that every "thou" must become an "it", every Godly perspective must become an earthly one. Hillman would add the complementary affirmation that there is a spark of divinity in all earthly things. Indeed, for Hillman, each worldly thing can be understood from a variety of perspectives, some of which are earthly, others infernal, and still others, divine. Stated another way, each thing shows a variety of aspects, some of which are better approached empirically, others poetically or philosophically.

My view is that a dialectic must occur between these two major points of view, one which reveals each to be complimentary to, and ultimately dependent upon, the other. Such a dialectic would, I believe, keep us open to the possibilities of attaining psychological knowledge and awaken us to the poetic depths of soul, both our own, and that of the world.


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The Lurianic Kabbalah is treated in detail in Sanford Drob's Symbols of the Kabbalah and Kabbalistic Metaphors .

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